Shaman Voices, LSO, St Luke's, London

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The Independent Culture

Shamans are cool this year, but would Contemporary Music Network's latest wheeze be anything more than stylish window-dressing? When Tanya Tagaq Gillis skipped on stage, squeaked a girlish "Hi!" and launched into a breathy song in infant tones, one feared the worst.

Shamans are cool this year, but would Contemporary Music Network's latest wheeze be anything more than stylish window-dressing? When Tanya Tagaq Gillis skipped on stage, squeaked a girlish "Hi!" and launched into a breathy song in infant tones, one feared the worst.

But then she began to sway and, without warning, a new voice joined in, grunting as though from the bottom of a deep cavern. Then another, jostling for space between the first two, heaving and groaning. This wasn't a solo singer: it was a pullulating group of the most ill-assorted spirits you could imagine, all contained within the same small body.

This was Inuit throat-singing, normally practised by women in pairs to while away the long Arctic nights, but here performed in the unique style this young Canadian has patented. No wonder Björk is rushing to collaborate with her.

Next up was the Mongolian throat-singer Okna Tsahan Zam, whose superb CD took us by surprise last year. Okna's story is fascinating: his name means "White Road", and the road in question was the long hike back from exile in Siberia to his parents' homeland in Kalmukia: it was during that hike that he was born in 1957. He trained as an engineer, but began to have epic dreams and followed their injunction to study throat-singing in Tuva. He's a wonderful artist, who recently turned down a Western film offer because it offended his Buddhist religion's purity.

But he's found a way to accommodate Western musical elements that keeps his singular art intact. His basic timbre is a burnished baritone, on top of which he adds flute-like overtones. His instrument is the dombra lute on which, like all Central Asian bards, he accompanies himself in ballads. But that's only the start of what he gave us: using his own field-recordings of winds, grasshoppers and galloping horses as a back-drop, he transported us compellingly to the Steppes.

Finally, on came the Finnish singer Wimme, whose gambit was to imitate an entire menagerie - a young reindeer, a wolf, a chicken, a donkey - before modulating into what we call music. But animal magic is music too, and what these singers purvey is in essence the same thing, despite their far-flung origins and differences in voice production. All these styles celebrate the spirits immanent in trees, rivers and rocks; all transport their performers to a higher, ecstatic plane. This was one of the most fascinating musical events I have had the privilege to attend.

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